Last week I wrote about a long-time favorite recipe of mind: The Vegetarian Epicure’s Eggplant Soufflé. It caught member Suzy Dannette Brown’s attention. The owner of The Brown Bag Nutrition & Chef Services loves eggplant and decided to add more Middle Eastern flavors–and make it for herself. That same day the eggplant was in the oven roasting and her creative juices flowing. Suzy added caramelized red onions, Mediterranean oregano, substituted grated parmesan for fresh sheep feta (love this idea), cow’s milk for almond milk, and oats for wheat flour.

I asked her why she made the changes.

“Well, I love roasted eggplant to the point of almost burnt,” she explained. “This is why I roast it till it is collapsing. I find it is easier if you cut it in half versus leaving it whole. I prefer this method. The end product is to my personal liking. I know roasting it whole until very very soft other people like better. That is, I think a personal choice. 

“I love red onions so deeply caramelized (just before burning) with brandy. Sometimes you may need more fat in the pan so they do not burn. I use a small red onion. I think red onions caramelize better than their yellow and white siblings. I also prefer the flavor. 

“Putting the two together is amazing.”

Suzy also added the garlic to the roux to permeate the roux with the garlic flavor. Adding in the chopped caramelized onions, she said, darkens the roux. “It’s a quick way to turn it from blond to brown,” she said.

Because eggplant to her is so Mediterranean, Suzy used the oregano and feta. In fact, she suggests using a zaatar spice mix to really hike those flavors.

Finally, she doesn’t drink cow’s milk and so chose almond milk and prefers oat flour to all-purpose wheat flour.

Suzy’s next step is to work with aquafaba (chickpea water found in canned chickpeas), whipping the aquafaba to replace whipped egg whites.

“I love taking traditional recipes and see how I can make them vegan,” she said.

Eggplant Soufflé for 2
Suzy Dannette Brown, The Brown Bag Nutrition & Chef Services

Ingredients
1 cup roasted eggplant, pat dry and chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon butter
1/2 teaspoon avocado oil
1/4 cup sliced red onion
1/2 teaspoon Mediterranean oregano
1 tablespoon brandy (optional)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon oat flour
1 medium clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup almond milk
1 ounce fresh sheep feta, crumbled
2 large eggs, separated
Middle Eastern chili sauce (optional)

2 10.5-ounce ramekins, buttered and sprinkled with salt and pepper

Directions
Preheat oven to 400°.

Slice 1 small eggplant in half lengthwise. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place on a lined sheet pan flesh side down. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the pulp is soft and caramelized. Cool to room temperature. Scrape out all the pulp and discard the skin. Place the pulp on a paper towel to drain a bit and chop it. Season it with salt and pepper, as needed. This can be done a day in advance.

In a small skillet heat a ½ teaspoon of butter and ½ teaspoon of avocado oil. Add red onion. Season with salt and pepper. Sauté onions on low until they begin to caramelize and turn golden brown. I like to add a splash of brandy to give the onions a bit more depth of flavor.

Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a small saucepan. Stir in the oat flour and let the roux cook for a few minutes. Add minced garlic and caramelized onions to combine well into the roux.

Slowly whisk the almond milk into the roux. When the sauce thickens, remove it from the heat and stir in the oregano, feta and the eggplant pulp. Season with salt and pepper. Add the egg yolks and fold in until everything is well combined.

Whisk the egg whites until they are quite stiff but not yet dry. Stir about a third of the egg whites into the eggplant mixture thoroughly. Gently fold in the remaining whites.

Pile the prepared soufflé ramekins. Place ramekins on a rimed baking sheet, place in oven and fill with some warm water (just enough to bing up ¼ inch of the ramekins). Place in a preheated, 400-degree oven. Bake the soufflé about 10 to 12 minutes. The soufflés should be firm to touch but not dry. Serve at once.

I like to top them with a Middle Eastern chili sauce

Are you a chef who likes to turn traditional recipes upside down? What have been your successes? What didn’t work out quite the way you wanted?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!

So, here’s what I will readily admit. Making a soufflé for a dinner party can be tricky business, whether you’re a chef or a home cook.

However, decades ago I discovered a soufflé that is pretty much foolproof and even time forgiving. In fact, it even survives as delicious leftovers. I first made the Eggplant Soufflé from The Vegetarian Epicure when I was just out of college and living in a fifth-floor walk up in Manhattan. My mom had bought me a soufflé dish at Bloomingdale’s, among other “necessary” kitchen items to help me get started with my first solo apartment. I stared at that white dish a lot–but used it to serve salad. No way was I going to make an actual soufflé. That was big league cooking. It was scary stuff. But I pulled out The Vegetarian Epicure and that particular recipe with the eggplant, perhaps my favorite vegetable, intrigued me. I stared it down. I decided this was the time to conquer that mountain.

And it turned out that the recipe was straight-forward, reliable, and produced a divine cloud of cheesy eggplant that my friends and I scarfed down. Let’s face it: In the late 70s and early 80s, it was oh-so-sophisticated a dish for a new college grad to mak– and I did it.

Younger cooks may not be familiar with this cookbook since The Vegetarian Epicure dates back to the early ’70s. I fondly embrace it as part of a moment in time along with The Whole Earth Catalog and Our Bodies, Ourselves. Yet, it stands out as one of the few vegetarian cookbooks of its day that actually had great recipes. Today everyone’s talking about–with justification–Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty and Plenty More. But I think The Vegetarian Epicure deserves a revival.

I thought about all this a awhile ago when a friend of mine, a wonderful cook and cookbook writer, Kathy Strahs, posted a piece on Facebook about her challenges in making a soufflé and I responded by bringing up this recipe and book. Then I thought, “Wait a sec. It’s been decades since I’ve made this. I wonder if it holds up all these years later.”

So, I pulled out the much worn book, which opened directly to the recipe, and gave it a try. And, yes, my friends, it’s still as forgiving and fabulous as ever. The flavor is smooth, the texture rich and creamy. It’s not loud and bold. It’s actually a kind of comfort food.

So, I feel the need to share this with you, in case you, too, have been intimidated by the idea of making a soufflé–or think they’re passé. What I realized is that it is a great recipe for personal chefs to make for vegetarian clients who want a catered dinner party. And it’s a great recipe for those of you who also teach cooking classes. Here is a true confidence booster for home cooks, including kids, who may assume that soufflés are a guaranteed fail.

Now, I really don’t change a thing in this recipe (okay, I do add an extra clove of garlic and cook it up in a larger saucepan than called for, but that’s it). But one thing I did come up with years ago was a spicy tomato relish to accompany it.

The relish is simple: fresh chopped tomatoes, julienned fresh basil, a diced jalapeño, diced red onion, minced garlic, sea salt, and a dash of balsamic vinegar. You may not think this soufflé/relish combo works, but I love it still. It brings the punch I like to an otherwise mild, comforting dish. These days, I also appreciate that the soufflé is low carb and low fat.

Eggplant Soufflé
From The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas
Serves 4

Ingredients
1 medium eggplant (about 1 lb.)
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbs. butter
1 small clove garlic, put through a press
2 Tbs. flour
1 cup milk
2 to 3 oz. fresh-gated Parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp. fresh-ground black pepper
3 egg yolks
4 egg whites
1/8 tsp. cream of tartar

Directions
Bake the eggplant in a pie dish in a 400-degree oven for about 45 minutes or until the pulp is soft. Cool it under running water so that you can handle it, then split it in half and let the excess water drain out. Scrape out all the pulp and mash it well. Season it with a teaspoon of salt.

Melt the butter in a small saucepan [note: use something larger since all the ingredients will go into it.].  Stir in the flour and let the roux cook for a few minutes.

Heat the milk slightly and beat it into the roux with a whisk. When the sauce thickens, remove it from the heat and stir in the grated cheese and the eggplant pulp. Season with black pepper. Finally, add the egg yolks, lightly beaten.

Add a pinch of cream of tartar to the egg whites and beat them with a whisk until they are quite stiff but not yet dry. Stir about a third of the egg whites into the eggplant mixture thoroughly. Gently fold in the remaining whites.

Pile the mixture into a buttered 6-cup soufflé dish and place it gently into a preheated, 350-degree oven. Bake the soufflé about 45 to 50 minutes and serve at once.

Do you have an “impossible” dish that is actually very accessible for clients and cooking class students? 

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

And if you are a member and have a special talent to share on this blog, let us know so we can feature you!